The Effects of Music on Those Living with Dementia
Anyone who has cared for a loved one that suffers with dementia knows the challenges that occur when trying to connect with them in positive ways. The difficulty lies in the lack of stimulating the minds and emotions of those who have dementia. They are frequently distant, as if in their own world. They often exhibit negativity or agitation due to difficulty in relating to those of us who are trying to interact with them.
How Music Stimulates Brain Activity:
Music causes emotions which trigger positive memories in those with cognitive deficits
Music appreciation and ability to understand melodies and lyrics are the last two remaining abilities cognitively in those living with dementia
Music can bring your loved one with dementia and their caregiver together emotionally
Music can cause singing or movement which is engaging, when engagement is often a challenge
Music can have other positive results in that it can shift mood, eliminate stress, and increase happiness in dementia patient
A study in New Zealand at the University of Otago, found that “older adults with dementia seem to have experience an improved quality of life after exposure to music." They surmised that introducing music to those with dementia not only causes connectivity to the environment, but stimulates memory (long term) and mood moderation as a result of this interaction. The music not only caused positive memory, but also humor and imagination. By introducing music that is familiar and reminiscent to them, it causes them to remember earlier, happier times in their life. They remember the lyrics to the songs that are most meaningful to them. They tap their feet. They clap. They nod their head and sometimes sing along. This activity causes enthusiastic response and connectivity to their surroundings. It was found in this study that the music would solicit responses from those effected by dementia better than verbal communication.
Those living with dementia that listen to music of their past, may revisit their youth. This may cause them to discuss those days long past that they are able to remember. They will speak of those in their past. They may remember singing in a church or going to a concert. They may remember being in a school band or dancing at a wedding. Not only does this activity open a door that is often closed, it causes calmness and a positive affect for the older adult. This is a perfect opportunity to communicate with them and bring out emotions and joy for them (and for the listener).
Listening and reacting to music may enhance the mental capabilities of those living with dementia. It may cause them to become clearer and more lucid, if only for a limited time. It is imperative to choose music from their own personal reference (Big Bands, Sinatra, Beatles, Hymns, Country, Blue Grass, or a Marching Band). Also, movies that incorporate music into the production (Disney Films or Musicals) can evoke the same results.
My mother had Alzheimer’s and as she drifted further and further away from me and her environment, I discovered the value and benefit of music with her. I invested in CD's of the Big Band era, Andy Griffith singing hymns, Tony Bennett, and Christmas Carols. I played this music for her throughout the day and was moved by her reaction and her connection to a time long past that was happy, bright and promising. She sang along, hummed, and tapped her foot. She would clap and move from side to side. The effects were magical to both her and to me. She has passed now, but I still have those CD's and I play them and remember the joy it brought to her and me as we interacted together. For those moments, we were on the same page engaging in the same experience, and connecting.
Do you or a loved one struggle with isolation, lack of cognitive stimulation, or dementia? EMBRACE could be right for you! Melanie Cahill, MS - Engagement Program Coordinator at CAB facilities our EMBRACE program. Everyone needs purpose and meaning in their life. By recognizing this fundamental need, EMBRACE is designed to help our clients engage in life.
Written By: Care Manager - Terrie Ware, RN